Thursday, October 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: "The Night of the Kraken"

"The Night of the Kraken" 
Written by  Stephen Kandel
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: In San Francisco, West's and Gordon's friend, Lt. Bartlett, is killed, apparently the victim of a tentacled sea creature. The navy keeps the fishermen away, but it soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy, not a monster, lies behind Bartlett's murder.

Trey: This episode is very enjoyable, but it's really kind of a retread of "The Night of the Watery Death" (which I think is superior) with the addition of the kraken....You know, this is kind of a Scooby-Doo plot!

Jim:  I can see why you might be reminded of "Watery Death," as there are a lot of similarities. Where this episode surpasses that one for me is with the addition of the character Jose Aguila, Ted Knight's performance and the mystery of the Kraken, which is presented more realistically than the serpentine torpedoes of Watery Death. However, once West enters the undersea fortress, this episode pretty much retreads all of "Watery Death."

Trey:  The kraken is pretty well realized, though, even it the fight scenes with it are not. Having Ted Knight here makes this episode feel a bit campy to me. Or probably better to say: a bit campier than usual. On the subject of guest stars, Darj Dusay (Dolores here) is another ST alum. She was in "Spock's Brain."

Jim: One of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes! I feel like they give away Dolores' involvement in the mystery a little quickly with her actions after the explosive assassination of Admiral Hammond.

Trey: How did she and Ted Knight's character get together? And who is he, particularly, anyway? It seems like a bit of backstory to tell us how we got to this status quo would have been useful.

Jim: I feel like you've just got something against Ted Knight.

Trey: I'll have to think about that. Anyway, I feel like the retrotech in this episode is a bit lazier than usual. Particularly that "scuba" tank. The design isn't awful, but since "standard diving dress" was in production from the 1840s, maybe just a little bit more futuristic version of that instead of working backwards from modern scuba gear would have been the way to go. 

Jim: I agree. Also, there's the thing they keep calling an "underwater missile." What they show us is not a missile at all, but a mine--and naval mines had been around a long time at this point. I guess Bartlett's innovation is the use of the magnetic guidance system, as the first magnetic mines weren't developed by Britain in WWI?

Trey: We can't end this discussion without talking about West's scuba diving attire. 

Jim: Oh yeah. Very specialized!

Trey: It's his regular tight pants...

Jim: And his boots!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gruesome Games

"The Night of the Gruesome Games" 

Written by  Jackson Gillis

Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Synopsis: Racing the clock to recover a stolen vial of deadly germs, West and Gordon stumble upon a party hosted by an eccentric millionaire Rufus Krause who delights in playing dangerous--and potentially lethal--parlor games.

Jim: This episode starts off quite well, with the highlights for me being the missiles Dr. Raker set up to ambush West, and how Artermis riled up the yokels with his rabble rousing talk. However once Dr. Raker takes a dive into the river, I found myself perplexed by the path the story took from there!

Trey: This feels like a Season 1 story done in the S4 style--or maybe a mashup of two S1 stories! I don't feel like the ticking time bomb bacterial container isn't as well-integrated into the story of the party and the vicious games as it might be.

Jim: Yes, the bacterial threat does seem unnecessary given how the rest of the episode plays out. There are a number of other ways West and Gordon could have found themselves invited to Krause's manor. I will say, in defense of this specific plot element, that it provides time pressure for our heroes to work against. It's possible that was added in a second draft of the script or changed at some point, which is why it feels awkward.

Trey: They try to tie things in by making the hidden villains the source of the deadly games, but it's not explained why the old man doesn't care that some people have died. It seems quite a coincidence that these folks were invited to the party of an old man who played dangerous games and was indifferent to murder.

Jim: Well, at one point Krause says he often gives into his baser desires, so maybe murder isn’t that high up on his list of offenses. Long time television staple William Schallet makes a good Rufus Krause, even if he does constantly remind me of Dick Van Dyke's Mr. Dawes Senior from Mary Poppins.

Trey: Sherry Jackson (Lola Cortez) is always welcome, but there doesn't seem much point to her being here. She fades in and out as the "girl of week" being with our heroes in some endeavors but often just being one of the crowd of victims--or suspects.

Jim: You are so right about Jackson's minimal role in this episode. Her intermittent use gives me more reason to wonder about rewrites on this episode. Part of it plays like And Then They Were None. If that was the original direction, I could see how her character might have had more purpose. 

The music in this episode seems to fit better than in some of the previous episodes we've watched this season. Even when it sort of deviates from the standard fare, as with the cue at the first break, it still sounds more appropriate for the show than the modern sounding scores we heard so far.

Trey: Did you note the stereotypical Asian Henchman's name  was No Fun? Very Bondian pun, that.

Jim: Yes, No Fun's name also gave me a chuckle. It's definitely a Bondian style pun, but I also wonder if it's a possible tip of the hat to another CBS villain, Hawaii Five-0's Wo Fat.

Trey: That’s the fifth time you’ve brought up Hawaii 5-0 when discussing this series. How much is CBS paying you to promote it? 

Jim: Not enough!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Sedgewick Curse

"The Night of the Sedgewick Curse" 
Written by  Paul Playdon
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis: A mysterious disappearance at a hotel and spa leads West and Gordon to Sedgewick Manor and the sinister secrets its inhabitants are keeping.

Trey: This episode is probably the most effective Gothic riff in the series, so far. Even the music--different from the traditional WWW score, but also not the modern, jaunty stuff we've been hearing recently--supports that vibe.

Jim: Oh yeah, this episode makes great use of the creepy vibe. Once West gets into Lavinia's dark mansion, it's one Gothic visual after another, culminating with the beautiful Lavinia aging before our eyes, a consequence of her doomed quest for eternal youth. Also, it starts with a variation on the Vanishing Lady/Hotel Room urban legend, which was popularized by another classic CBS show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the episode "Into Thin Air."

We have occasionally talked about how often the guest actors (villains) on the show may not have been the best choice for the given role. I have no such complaints about this episode! Jay Robinson is wonderfully unnerving as Dr. Maitland. His monologue about the historical portraits is almost Lovecraftian.

Trey: He is great, and he's one of three Star Trek alumni guest starring here. The other two are Sharon Acker and Anthony Jochim.

Jim: I don't remember Robinson from Star Trek, I DO remember him from "Dr. Shrinker" a segment from the short-lived Sid & Marty Kroft show, The Krofft Supershow.

Trey: Robinson's role in ST is pretty minor. He's the Troyian Ambassador in "Elaan of Troyius."  He's also got green alien make-up on and a wig, so not easy to spot except by that voice.

Jim: Yeah, he would have been pretty much invisible to me during that episode, as I would have only had eyes for France Nuyen!

One thing I admire about James West is that he is often so confident of his abilities that he doesn't worry about sleeping in a dangerous place. (Something he's done a few times in the series.) We never see him or Gordon quibble about who will have first watch, or how to best secure their area. I wish he was leading my D&D party.

Trey: He has the confidence of a man who knows he's the series lead. He's particularly lucky this episode, though. It's Gordon that gets put in two death traps whereas he's usually the rescuer!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Juggernaut

"The Night of the Juggernaut" 
Written by  Calvin Clements Jr.
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): West and Gordon discover homesteaders are being run off their land by some sort of armored machine.

Jim: I've been waiting for this episode. Whether it's Speed Racer vs the Mammoth Car or Six Million Dollar Man's Death Probe, I always find the concept of a hero facing off against an unstoppable menace enjoyable. Man, do we jump to the setup and action quick with this one! We're just in the cold open, and we already get West and Gordon facing off against the steam-powered juggernaut.

Trey: It definitely doesn't waste any time.

Jim: How "science fiction" do you judge the juggernaut to be?

Trey: Well, the basic idea is perhaps credibly in the realm of "near future" speculation, but the specific design of this juggernaut is pretty fanciful compared to the steam-powered cars of the era.

Jim: It does seem odd it's so fanciful. There's not really a reason for the villain to paint it like that.

Trey: The driver even has a matching uniform! Maybe there's some sort of villain infernal contraption road race, and this was going to be his entry?

Jim: Now, that's an episode I'd like to see! Back to this episode, though, I enjoyed Lyle Dixon (played by boxer/actor Floyd Patterson) as the homesteader in this episode.

Trey: He's good guest star. Season 4 has had more Black actors in the episodes we've watched than any 2 other whole seasons, I bet. The times were changing! Overall, while I still like this episode, I think it appealed to me more when I was younger. The "tank" was emblematic of this being a different sort of Western to me then. Now, it feels a bit like a gimmick to enliven a fairly average episode. But it does enliven it.

Jim: Yeah, if you remove the juggernaut, this was just another spin on the rancher chasing off homesteaders trope.

Trey: Yeah, it's very stereotypical, and it's also the second time we've gotten a "I want the land for the oil" plot in the episodes we've watched, the first being "The Night of the Golden Cobra."

Jim: One think I noticed at the end of the episode: Is Robert Conrad's hair getting longer? It looked longer, particularly the sideburns.

Trey: I did! Like I say, the times are changing!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Doomsday Formula

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  Samuel Newman
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): When arms dealer kidnaps the inventor of a powerful new explosive, Jim and Artie attempt to rescue him before his formula's sold to the highest bidder.

Jim: First, we gotta discuss that groovy 60's music in this episode! At times it sounds like it could be the score for an episode of I Dream Of Jeannie! At times, it's so anachronistic that it completely pulls me out of the episode.

Trey: It's interesting that it's only aggressively modern in the cold open. The rest of the episode is scored a bit more conventionally, I think. I'm not sure about I Dream of Jeannie. It reminds me more of the 70s cop show work of Lalo Schifrin.

Jim: This episode does an admirable job giving both West and Gordon things to do. Gordon in his Middle Eastern guise provides Ross Martin lots of engaging screen time, and Conrad climbing through the air ducts and riding zip lines are entertaining physical sequences. In many ways, I think this is peak Wild Wild West, as this is probably how the characters are best utilized.

Trey: I agree that this episode really utilizes them both well and kind of in the archetypal way they ought to be used. Something to ponder, though: I feel like the "formula" is really most clear and most well executed in the episodes that are more conventional, less high concept. Is it a case of the writers who best understood the formula gravitated toward more straightforward plots, or is it an artifact of weirder episodes requiring the characters to work in different ways?

Jim: Hmm that's a good question. I can see how a conventional plot would allow the writers to focus on the characters strengths. I can also see how a weirder plot would require more exposition and setup, so it eats into the time West and Gordon get for their schtick.

Trey: I suppose it could always be that we notice the character stuff in more conventional episodes more because there is less other stuff to distract us!

Jim: There's that, too! Kevin McCarthy is okay as General Kroll, but he is lacking the qualities to make him standout. He doesn't have an interesting gimmick, appearance or motivation, and he's not charismatic enough to engage us without one of those things. That can be a challenge for some of the guest star villains on this show!

Trey: True. McCarthy's style makes me think that he's trying to convey a man of calculation and cruelty. Maybe the death trap he puts Lorna Crane in to convince Dr. Crane to give him the formula is evidence of that, but I feel like we needed more. Ultimately, his playing straight man to Gordon's mummery antics sort of robs him of the chance to shine. I mean, he's got a cane with a metal fist on the end, did he ever fight West with it?

Jim: You're right! I don't think he did. One thing I liked: the audio device playing Gordon singing might be a bit anachronistic, but I appreciate the steampunk looking design. 

Trey: It is definitely anachronistic, but it wasn't a bad design. Sometimes WWW fails because close ups of their gadgets show them to look like more modern gadgetry in terms of design or materials, but this time they got it right.

Jim: So you're saying you'll accept a miniature grappling gun in the 1870s, but not if it looks like it's made of plastic?

Trey: You gotta draw the line somewhere.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Big Blackmail

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  David Moessinger
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: A foreign diplomate, Baron Hinterstoisser, plans to use a fake kinetoscope film of Grant making a secret alliance with a another nation to embarrass the United States for political gain. West and Gordon must break into the embassy and substitute their own film before it is shown to the public.

Trey: While we both prefer episodes with at least a tinge of weirdness, this one is about all you could want from a "straight" spy-fi episode: Good set up, groovy music, and great action. It was the 6th episode produced for the season, but CBS wanted it to air first and I can see why. It's really all around well written. It reminds me a bit of the Season 3 opener, "Bubbling Death" in its virtues.

Jim: Yeah, the episode has a real Mission Impossible vibe. From the start with West stealing the film strip, to the wax seal on the box, and then the ominous warning of seven dead agents, you can tell you are in for a fun reverse heist type of plot. I'm a fan of Mission Impossible, so I found myself enjoying this installment more than I was expecting, from reading the synopsis.

Coincidentally, Ron Rich, who plays Dick January in this episode, would later share the screen with Robert Conrad again in a two part Mission Impossible episode called "The Contender."

Trey: He isn't the only guest star here. The big one, of course, is Harvey Korman, best known from his time on The Carol Burnett Show.

Jim: Weirdly and against my expectations, he plays everything so straight here. It's perplexing because many actors found a way to put a little camp into their characters in earlier seasons. Maybe that was a directorial decision?

Trey: There's good interaction between West and Gordon in this episode. 

Jim: I found West disregarding Gordon's warning on the red lever pretty funny. but the highlight of this episode is the fake film with Gordon clowning around!

Trey: Artemus Gordon: Inventor of Silent Film Comedy.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death-Maker

"The Night of the Death-Maker" 
Written by  Robert E. Kent
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: After foiling an elaborate attempt to assassinate President Grant, West and Gordon discover the mastermind is a former Army officer who was stripped of his command, and is building a private army for another attack on the President.

Jim: And so we come to the end of Season 3. Will it end with a bang or a whimper I wonder?

Trey: Survey says...whimper. Nothing is bad, really, but we have seen it all before--and better done before. 

Jim: Agreed. I will tell you the first thing that struck me about this episode, though--

Trey: I bet it's the first thing that struck me!

Jim: This late 19th century town has better paved streets than some of the areas places around my town today!

Trey: And with as many oil stains!

Jim: The foiled assassination attempts makes for an exciting opening, I'd say. The episode takes a bit of a conventional Western path from there, but things get more intriguing when the missing monks and the Cullen Dane's forces are introduced. 

Trey: I kind of like Cullen Dane's girlfriend, the actress, is a true believer and not a dupe. She doesn't fall for West and get "rescued!"

Dane definitely has delusions of grandeur. He doesn't seem to have a large enough force to take California, much less the U.S. as a whole. In fact that goal seems so tacked on, they should have just left it at the revenge assassination.

Jim: I feel like this story could have been improved with monks guarding an ancient relic or alchemical formula. Especially if that monastic secret had been coupled with some fantastic element like invisibility or invulnerability!

Trey: Eh, I can't go with you on that one.

Jim: C'mon! I've decided that Wild Wild West works best in one of two modes: When it's delving into more scifi or weird stories like "Burning Diamonds" or "Simian Terror," or when it's using the team of Jim and Artemis in a more conventional television storyline like "Iron Fist." 

Trey: Well, that I would agree with, at least in broad strokes. 

Jim: Success!

Trey: And with that, we exit Season 3.


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